Blaze destroys 2 homes

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec / Firefighters from Altoona Fire Department put out a fire that broke out along East Sixth Avenue on Wednesday.

A two-alarm fire on Altoona’s East End destroyed two homes and damaged a third Wednesday evening.

“We lost everything,” Stacey Langguth said of the loss of his family’s home at 107 E. Sixth Ave., which was left a gutted, blackened shell after flames ripped through the two-story house just before 7 p.m.

Langguth, along with his wife, Jody, and their son left the house about 4 p.m. and were at the Second Avenue United Methodist Church at the time the fire broke out, helping serve meals for the church’s after-school program.

“We were up there finishing up, and I got a call, ‘Your house is on fire,” Langguth said.

Altoona Fire Department Chief Timothy Hileman said firefighters were on scene within 90 seconds and encountered flames throughout the first floor of the structure.

“There was fire rolling out the front of the building and fire rolling out the back,” Hileman said.

The heat from the blaze ignited the houses on either side of 107 E. Sixth Ave., with 105 E. Sixth Ave. — which sits to the right of Langguth’s house if viewed from the street — severely damaged. The roofs of the two homes nearly touch, and there is only inches between the two buildings. The home at 105 E. Sixth Avenue, the home of George and Shirley Cheslock, is likely a total loss, Hileman said.

John Turiano, who lives in the house on the other side of the Langguth home, at 109 E. Sixth Ave., said he had dozed off and was awoken by the sound of someone pounding on his front door.

“Things being what they are, I thought maybe it was just a bunch of kids or something, so I didn’t get too excited,” Turiano said.

Turiano said he realized something was wrong when he looked out the front window and saw people in the street, yelling.

It was his neighbor at 111 E. Sixth Ave. who had been pounding on the door. Turiano said he answered his front door and his neighbor told him Langguth’s house was on fire.

“When I went out, his front porch was fully engulfed,” Turiano said.

Turiano, who lives alone, said he “got out what is important” and got himself out of the house. He said he’s insured, so he would be making some calls and waiting to find out the extent of the damage inside the house. The heat had melted off the siding on the side closest to the Langguth’s home as well as a part of the front of the house.

Two hours after the fire broke out, city firefighters continued to pour water on the roofs and in the attics of all three houses as smoke rolled from the eaves and ventilation holes cut by firefighters in the attack. Flames would kick up along the edge of the roof of the Langguth home well past dark.

Everyone was able to get out of the homes safely, although the Langguth family did lose the family dog — a Jack Russell and pug mix named Daisy, which was due to turn 4 years old. Langguth said the home is insured.

The families had all made arrangements to stay elsewhere Wednesday night, and the American Red Cross was on scene to provide assistance, along with AMED and the Salvation Army, Hileman said.

One firefighter suffered what Hileman said was a superficial burn to the back of his neck when some rubble fell on him during the attack on the fire. The firefighter was treated and released, the chief said.

“This was a tough fire to fight,” Hileman said, noting the warm weather added to the difficulty. The fire was a two-alarm fire, meaning off-duty firefighters were called in to service for the response.

In all, 23 city firefighters tackled the blaze, and Hileman said it was a very good effort to save the homes and keep the fire from spreading.

“Fortunately, tonight we didn’t anything more than superficial burns,” Hileman said.

The fire shut down a main artery through the East End of the city as fire trucks and hoses closed Sixth Avenue and Lloyd Street so firefighters could run waterlines to the scene.

Sixth Avenue and Lloyd Street were expected to be opened by 10 p.m., but Hileman noted they would remain closed as long as necessary to ensure the scene is safe and secure.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, and city fire inspector Tim Hughes was on scene to inspect the structures and damage.

The investigation into the cause remained ongoing Wednesday night.

Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.